Why We Believe Simplistic Stories About (Among Other Things) Money Solving Education in the Third World


Alanna Shaikh has an interesting piece up at Foreign Policy that gets at the root question of all widely believed fabrications: Why did we believe it? The case in question is Greg "Three Cups of Tea" Mortenson, but you don't need to care any more about that particular story to find some of the concepts here interesting. Excerpt:

Why, exactly, did we ever think that Mortenson's model for education, exemplified in his Central Asia Institute (CAI), was going to work? Its focus was on building schools—and that's it. Not a thought was spared for education quality, access, or sustainability. But building schools has never been the answer to improving education. If it were, then the millions of dollars poured into international education over the last half-century would have already solved Afghanistan's—and the rest of the world's—education deficit by now.

Over the last 50 years of studying international development, scholars have built a large body of research and theory on how to improve education in the developing world. None of it has recommended providing more school buildings, because according to decades of research, buildings aren't what matter. Teachers matter. Curriculum matters. Funding for education matters. Where classes actually take place? Not really. […]

[T]he big reason nobody asked the tough questions was that we fell for the story. We didn't want to ask. Sure, the book was a turgid, overwritten hagiography, but the story was magic. We all wanted to believe. […]

We wanted to believe that sometimes, international aid really is that easy, that a clueless amateur with a heart of gold can bring change in a region that has defeated the experts. […]

We let Mortenson spin us because we wanted to be spun. Development problems are hard, slow, difficult problems that take generations to solve. It's a lot more fun to believe in a good story.

Whole thing here. Previous Mortenson-blogging here and here. Link via the Twitter feed of AntiWar.com.